Friday, 15 June 2012

Is Development a Dirty Word?

It seems that development is a dirty word, but I wonder whether it's all about the context. Look at vast parts of the world, and development may simply mean clean water, sanitary toilet facilities and some form of indoor cooking apparatus that doesn't smoke the house out and lead to an early death from lung cancer. That kind of development sounds pretty good to me.

But of course, here in merry England, development means, as Charlotte quite rightly says, those horrible little boxes, usually, astoundingly, build with brick or concrete round a wooden box frame. And, for every fabulous passiv-haus that's built, or (my favourite) that wonderful straw house from Grand Designs, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of awful sterile developments. I'm amazed that anyone buys them.

The Victorian terraces and the industrial architecture of northern England are now seen as part of our heritage, yet in the 1940s and 50s, much of it was seen as a blight, to be cleared to make way for "modern" tower blocks, which in time, came to be seen, quite rightly, as eyesores and utterly inimicable to quality of life. Maybe, in the fulness of time, our own modern eyesores, the "dormitory towns", scattered houses with no communal facilities, no shops, schools or green spaces, will go the same way and be replaced by more enlightened housing. Maybe a return to more traditional high streets, replacing the clone-town blueprint, could lead to more people living, once again, in the centre of towns, above shops, maybe even the shops they own themselves? Maybe development could once again be a good concept, where older, solid housing, in the right place, with the right facilities close by, could be retrofitted, redeveloped even, to make them sustainable, carbon-neutral, and pleasant to live in, with shared green places, like the Wensum or Grapes Hill community gardens.

But as Chris says, we need to demand those kinds of developments over others. As a nation, we seem to dream about a lifestyle based on community (see all the nostalgia around the Jubilee, the books, films and programmes set in the pre-modern age) yet, all our actual real-life choices move us away from that ideal. We are peculiarly inconsistent in our dreams and our reality. As Charlotte says, no-one wants to see green spaces grubbed up for housing, yet, we consciously or otherwise, condone it. And longing for community isn't about nostalgia, about a fictional past that only really exists in costume-drama or in the tourist routes; we're not looking for a return to the past, but for a new future. Looking for a new England.

I'm afraid I don't know the answer to the development question, but as a nation, we have to do something otherwise we will continue to get the development we deserve in our inaction, rather than the development we dream of.



  1. Wow, another great post! "As a nation, we seem to dream about a lifestyle based on community yet all our actual real-life choices move us away from that ideal." very true.

  2. I'll second that, Simeon. Really enjoyed this Jon. And the same quote jumped out to me, too!

  3. Thanks for the great posts everyone, whilst I was walking the coastal paths of North Wales - it always amazes me how few people make the effort to get away from the crowds on these beautiful paths.

    Just to make it clear - I have no wish to see more 'little boxes' just in order to get a cycle path - what I fear is that we will get the 'little boxes' but without the cycle path (and the allotments etc)!